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November 24, 2012

Notes: Rebels bound for Birmingham?



OXFORD, Miss. -- Denzel Nkemdiche wasn't bashful about his expectations for Saturday night.

Before the game and when possible during it, the Ole Miss freshman linebacker run up and down the Mississippi State sideline, shouting at the Bulldogs. It was close for a half, but Nkemdiche's prediction came true.

Ole Miss routed MSU 41-24, including a 24-7 advantage after halftime.

"Before the game I was on their sideline trying to get them going and get me going," Nkemdiche said. "During the game I got in Coach Mullen's face and told him it was our game. That's what went down. I was confident in our team. That's what happened tonight."

The rivalry was talked about at times throughout the year, and it was a personal one for Ole Miss. Bowl eligibility was also on the line, giving Ole Miss a mix of motivations for the annual Battle for the Golden Egg.

"The importance of a bowl game and this game came down to it," Nkemdiche said. "It's a big rivalry that has been talked about throughout the year. My teammates have let me know about it, and how some of my teammates were committed to Mississippi State but decided to come here, and I know how big it is - how bad we've been getting dogged on for the last two, three years. I knew on game week it was going to be hype. "

While the Rebels have improved in every way after a 2-10 season in 2011, the sixth win was necessary to complete the turnaround. The Rebels dropped three conference games after having fourth-quarter leads, but the same didn't happen Saturday.

Instead Ole Miss finished with a flourish.

"Success this year was dependent on making it to a bowl game this year," Nkemdiche said. "We competed against the best but that's not good enough. We needed to take that next step and be able to practice in December. We know how it feels to be heartbroken and lose those close games, and we weren't going to let it happen again. I personally told the seniors I'd do it for them. It's not their last game.

"We're proud of each other and played for each other out of love, and Coach (Hugh) Freeze expressed that. We played out of love, not out of hatred ,which I think they played for against us."

COMMITMENT COMING?: While Nkemdiche was talking about the Rebels' win, he also dropped some recruiting scoop about his brother, Robert, the No. 1 recruit in the country.

Robert Nkemdiche was in attendance and was shown by ESPN cameras celebrating on the field after the Ole Miss victory. He's been a regular visitor to Oxford this season, and the high-profile defensive end has been back on the market after decommitting from Clemson a couple weeks ago.

"Robert told me personally, and I don't know if I'm supposed to say it, but he's committing (to Ole Miss) in two weeks," Denzel Nkemdiche said. "That's just the honest truth. That's what he told me, and he's not going to lie to his brother. I'm really excited. That's a big deal."

REBELS BIRMINGHAM-BOUND?: With Florida beating Florida State and Missouri losing to Texas A&M Saturday, the Southeastern Conference will almost certainly not be able to fulfill all of his bowl tie-ins.

What does that mean for Ole Miss, which finished the season 6-6 with a win over No. 25 Mississippi State Saturday night? Likely a trip to Birmingham, Ala., on Jan. 5 against a foe from the Big East Conference in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

The winner of next weekend's SEC Championship Game in Atlanta between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Georgia will face No. 1 Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship Game. Florida, which finished the season 11-1 and ranked No. 4, will likely move up to No. 3 in the BCS in a week. The Gators will presumably play in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.

The Compass Bowl and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl have the final two choices of SEC teams. Last year, the Liberty Bowl had the first choice among those two bowls. This year, however, the Birmingham-based bowl will select first.

"It's really not in our control," Liberty Bowl executive director Steve Ehrhart said Saturday night. "We're going to try to have some talks with the league. In the old days, the bowls were more in control. It's really in the hands of the league office and the contracts with the league. I'm hesitant to speak to them, but we'll have to work with the league throughout the week."

Ehrhart has been a frequent visitor to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium this fall, and it's no secret the Memphis-based bowl would love to have the Rebels on New Year's Eve to face a Conference USA opponent, likely Tulsa.

"It's a beautiful, natural thing," Ehrhart said. "It's been 20 years since Ole Miss was in our game and with Hugh (Freeze) coming back to Memphis where he was as a high school coach and all the recruiting that's going on in Memphis and north Mississippi, it would be a wonderful situation. We've been very clear we'd love to have Ole Miss."

'I FELT THEM GIVING UP': Ole Miss defensive back Charles Sawyer said he felt the Bulldogs "giving up, kind of" in the second half Saturay.

"You could tell it wasn't going their way in their demeanor, how they ran their routes, how they blocked you," Sawyer said. "You just could tell. After our offense kept scoring, it just got easier and easier. …That's the best feeling."


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